Have you ever been surprised by Scripture? I was recently surprised by a connection I saw between a passage in 1 Peter and a very short, very familiar parable Jesus told that is recorded in Matthew.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46 NIV)
Jesus does not directly explain or interpret this parable like He does with some of the others, so there is a bit of wiggle room for interpretation. I have always been taught that this parable teaches about our need to sacrifice everything for the great worth we find in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The Faithlife Study Bible notes on this parable say that in this parable, “Jesus exhorts His hearers to do whatever it takes to enter [the Kingdom of God].” The Holman Concise Bible Commentary says that in this parable, Jesus describes “the inestimable value of the kingdom and the need to sacrifice whatever it takes to enter it.” While this is true, I now wonder if this is the best interpretation of this story.
I was studying a passage in 1 Peter recently when this parable and a completely different interpretation of it came to mind. Keep the parable in the back of your mind as you read the following verse:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet 1:18-19 NIV).
Read how it is translated in The Voice:
“You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver or gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed, who was like a perfect and unblemished sacrificial lamb” (1 Pet 1:18-19 VOI).
Is it possible that we have been looking at this parable backwards? Did we seek Jesus out or did He seek us out? Paul says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 NIV). He sought us out like the merchant sought out the pearl. And we did not purchase anything. He purchased us with the highest possible price – His life and His blood. I believe a better interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is the merchant who gave everything to purchase you and to purchase me –the church, His bride, His costly pearl purchased with His precious blood.
Warren Wiersbe is one commentator who shares this interpretation of this short parable. He says: “The pearl represents the church…Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity –it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided…[Christ] sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches…all true believers ought to identify with a local assembly where they can worship and serve.”
This Sunday, when you are gathered with your church family where you have an opportunity to encourage each other, and to celebrate together who God is and what He has done for you, think about the price Jesus paid for you as well as for the brother or sister next to you or across the aisle --- the price He paid for your church family. Be thankful that you are a part of such a costly and precious pearl.